I’ll be honest: I’m a productivity nerd. I’m still very much at the beginning of this life-long process, but I absolutely love the idea that with a little careful thought ahead of time we can get so much more of what we want accomplished.
It’s interesting how often people ask how I do all the various projects I’m involved in. I don’t think my personal accomplishments are particularly impressive, but people keep asking so something must be noticeably different from the average. Truthfully, I enjoy what I do. But there is a method to the madness - a process that ensures that I will be continuously taking steps toward my goal. And technically, I just gave it away - the real secret is in continuously taking steps, no matter how small, towards your goals. But the process is a little more complicated. Today, I’ll touch on the first step. Next week, we’ll talk more.
The Most Important Step
Those of you well on your way to making your own dream into reality already know that this is actually the most important part: have a clearly defined goal. For the rest of you, I know you’re thinking “but I already have a goal. My goal is to ____________ .” But stop right there and think about how you phrased your goal. Does it involve how you feel more than what you’re doing? Does it involve a scene (e.g. “on the beach”) rather than a specific place (e.g. “cruising the South Pacific islands.”)? Does it involve “someday” rather than “in two years”?
I thought so. You see, without concrete goals, you can’t measure your progress.
As an adjunct, allow me to state unequivocally that you will never have “enough money” for anything. There is no such thing. Don’t use the concept of “when I have enough money, I will do (xyz)”. You won’t ever get there. Instead, figure out what it will actually take to do it, whether that’s a specific amount of money ($800 for flight costs, $500 for hotel, etc), time (days off from work, spring break, etc), or skills (speaking French, being able to play a specific song, whatever). Note that “opportunity” doesn’t factor in that list. That’s because I don’t believe you should ever wait for opportunity. You prepare for opportunities. You make opportunities. You don’t wait for them. Because if you haven’t prepared for them, if you haven’t set the steps in process for them to be created, you won’t ever get them. Even if one miraculously presented itself nevertheless, you still wouldn’t be able to capitalize on it anyway. Opportunities happen around you all the time. You’re just not in the place to take advantage of them.
So let’s try that whole goal thing again. Sit down, grab a sheet of paper, and clear away all of your distractions. Turn off the cell phone, close your door (and your laptop), and light some incense or a candle if that’s your thing. Now, think about what you actually want to do with your life. Your ideas can be long range (live aboard a sailing boat, cruising the south pacific, in five years), they can be short range (fly to Corsica for the Calvi on the Rocks Festival), but what matters is that you make them as specific as possible, and set a timeframe for them. This is round one of goal setting.
Before you’re done, let’s set one other goal. This one is very short range: within the next week. Pick a day, pick an hour or two, and pick a location that will require you to go a little out of your way, to break your patterns. I usually pick some place I really like but for whatever reason I don’t go very often - like a local park or a particular stretch of coastline. Set yourself a personal date to go to that location and spend some more time with yourself. You’re going to start deciding the way your life will go rather than accepting whatever happens. So when you’re there with yourself on that personal date, think a little more about what you really want to do or become in the next year, three years, five years. Give yourself measurable goals, ones you not only believe deep down you can accomplish but also the kind that come from the part of you inside that really enjoys life and gets all excited about it.
Now let yourself get all excited about it.
You’re going to get there.
(For some more ideas on brainstorming and focusing your personal goals, Chris Guillebeau at “The Art of Non-Conformity” has a great article on conducting your own annual review which I highly recommend.)